BY KEVIN FARIS
Louisville coach Rick Pitino, formerly of UK and the Boston Celtics, is currently involved in a very messy, gossipy, and strange story. Late Saturday, he released a statement saying he was the victim of extortion, then Tim Sypher, the UL equipment manager, released a statement that explains that the person doing the extortion is his soon to be ex-wife Karen Sypher. Mrs. Sypher did an interview with a local TV station, Fox41 WDRB, and then took a lie detector test that came back inconclusive. This has caused WDRB to not air the interview. And that's pretty much where we are.
Before we go further, there is probably one thing we have to agree on. This news, although it may be of a gossipy and seedy nature, is indeed news. Rick Pitino is not just a basketball coach. He is a celebrity basketball coach. He makes about $2 million per year, he is the face of UL, he endorses products both locally and nationally that are not basketball related, and he writes self-help/life-lesson style books. That is what I believe and that is why this is, or should be news.
But, for some reason, it is not as big as you might think. John Clay of the LHL wrote about it today, but offered forth no more facts than were out there earlier. Gary Parrish of CBS Sportsline also wrote about it, and also revealed nothing more than we already know. And, as stated above, WDRB has the woman's claims on tape, but have decided to sit on it. ESPN has had very little, beyond an appearance on "First and 10" by Pitino friend and business partner Pat Forde, although ESPN did not identify him as either.
Is this a case of an outbreak of journalistic standards? Has the local and national media decided to no longer repeat rumors or statements that they feel are not entirely true? Or, is this another case of the powerful protecting the powerful?
Matt Jones of Kentuckysportsradio.com (one of the best UK blogs out there, as well as FREE!) believes so. He writes "...the local media in Louisville and Kentucky has made a self-declared “information embargo” and has only let one side of the story be heard." I agree with Jones, and would even expand that to the national media. But, why?
The first reason I can think of is a fear of UL Athletic Director Tom Jurich. While Jurich has been extremely successful building up UL sports, he has also used his power and influence to squelch criticism in the media. Lachlan McLean of 840 WHAS read a poem on air mocking former UL football player Willie Williams. He "disappeared" from the air for a week for reasons not made entirely clear. Local sports talk radio stations critical of UL also ran into problems with credentials and advertisers.
Another reason, especially nationally, is the relationship Pitino has with media members. An extremely successful college coach, Pitino not only has friends in high places, but also business partners, such as co-author Pat Forde and "journalist/entertainer" Dick Vitale. If the person in this story was Alex Rodriguez, you can guarantee ESPN would be applying a lot more time and resources to covering it.
In the end, this lack of investigative reporting by the local and national media is the reason people across the country have slowly been looking to other sources for information. All I want is for the truth to come out. If Pitino is the victim, than I am sorry for him. But, the powerful protecting the powerful is not the way this should work. Last year, the LHL investigated the Billy G. rumors and revealed that the most popular ones (Merrick pool for instance) were not true. If their investigation revealed they were true, would they have printed it? Of course they would have, and they should have.
As Larry Glover of WVLK said, in situations such as this, the rich and powerful rarely lose to those who aren’t rich and powerful. I would add, it is even less likely when they are protected by the rich and powerful.